Winning Him Back—with Jealousy?

Dear Duana,

After three happy years with my first love, I ruined things by turning clingy, depressed and negative when we moved apart for grad school.  The nag who waits by the phone, plans her life around a guy, cries piteously?  Was Me.  Not surprisingly, he eventually broke it off, and I actually begged him to return.  How alluring, right?      

Fast forward three more years.  I still love Dan.  We now live in the same city, know the same people, and often see one another at art galleries, the theater, etc.  And I’ve returned to being the independent, well-adjusted, optimistic woman I really am.  But I’m not sure Dan sees that yet…or if he ever will.  How do I ease the awkwardness between us, let him see I’m the woman he fell in love with, and win him back?    


Dear Cait,

Oh, the I-cringe-at-my-own-past-desperate-behavior feeling!  We’ve all been there.  Yet precisely because you tried so hard to hang onto Dan back then, it’s imperative that you do *nothing* to ease the tension now.

In fact, I’d suggest increasing the awkwardness.  And although what I’m about to advise is politically incorrect, defies current mainstream culture, and should offend almost everyone who attempts to be fair and honest, Love Science is ultimately about What Works in the human mating ritual.  Which, you may have noted, ain’t always pretty.  So here goes.

First, let’s review:  A man can court a woman and win her heart, but a woman can rarely court to win a man.  As former articles have shown, most men connect with their longing for and commitment to us when they are *uncomfortable* or when barriers (such as the threat of other suitors) stand in their way—not when we make things a snap.  And because men seek status in all things, including relationships, women who “work too hard” or offer too much too easily appear clingy and desperate and low-status, oh my.  And as you’ve seen—that is Man Repellent. 

Conversely, most desirable men value She Who Requires Effort as good indicators of status and fidelity.  It’s likely that Dan wants a prize he has to work for, not a job he’s been assigned.  He wants a high-status woman—the one he used to see in you before the separation, and the one you are now.

So, you’re not going to pursue Dan if you want to Win Him Back.  Instead, you’re going to put yourself into a position to be worked for—even competed for. In other words, if you want Dan to win *you* back, it’s time to Make Him Jealous. 

Although men and women are equally likely to feel jealousy, about twice as many women admit they’ve intentionally tried to rouse the Green-Eyed Monster—and revenge is rarely their motivation.  Instead, Gregory White and others have found that most women cultivate jealousy for two reasons: to discern the strength of their lover’s feelings and  enhance commitment.

If you think about it, there aren’t too many effective ways to accomplish these feats if you’re the more interested party—which, like you, most women using jealousy are.  How can you tell if he loves you?  And can you make him if he’s not so inclined?  Unfortunately, the pill that forces love between two particular individuals is not yet FDA-approved.  So in truth, you can’t make Dan feel anything.  You can just do certain things, and he’ll either connect with your worth to him and a dread of losing you and engage pursuit, or he’ll feel little and do even less. Scientists and research participants alike agree, though:  No jealousy = no love = time to move on.  But isn’t having that knowledge better than continuing to wonder? 

Of course, we’re hoping for Dan’s sudden emotional epiphany regarding your desirability, your status, your unique You-ness that originally captivated his emotions.  Clearly, this is what most women are after when they create competition scenarios.  After all, if a man loves a woman and she’s got other active options, he’d better do something pronto or watch someone else whisk her away, right?  Right?

As it happens—Yes.  Although popular opinion says that men will necessarily reject a woman who creates the circumstances for jealousy, researchers including Virgil Sheets have scoped men’s responses to women’s jealousy tactics, and have found that men who care about the woman in question commonly *increase* their involvement when she invokes jealousy.  Specifically, men admit to stepping up the amount of attention paid to her, spending more energy tracking her whereabouts, and showing signs of her value to him.  And when David Buss and others studied hundreds of dating and married couples, they found that men’s most common response to perceived rivalry from another man was to lavish time, attention, jewelry, dinners, etc. on the woman they didn’t want to lose.

So, given that female creation of jealousy very often Works—how do *you* Work It?  Here’s what Science Says savvy women are up to.  Or, to ruin a Paul Simon tune: There Must Be Seven Ways To Make Him Jealous:

1. Date Others Now.  And not just any Others, mind you: Others who are higher in status—money, education, leadership qualities, job, physical prowess— than Dan. Global research strongly suggests the most threatening (and hence motivating) rival is the one with more on the ball than your beloved. 

2. Make Sure Dan Knows About Your Dates.    Be properly escorted to these events where you normally run into Dan.  And if you happen to mention your new date’s credentials to a good friend of Dan’s (or to Dan himself, should the occasion arise), so much the better. 

3. Don’t have a legitimate date?  Fake It.  You know that guy friend of yours who is perfect, but you’re just not into each other?  Or your best friend’s brother who is a little too much like family to be sexy to you?  Ask them to be your ‘beard’—they’re ideal.  You don’t have to say one way or the other what they mean to you; just show up and flirt with them.

4. Get Your Flirt On.  Flirt in front of Dan with other men every chance you get.  The top way to flirt, as research has shown, is to do the things *you* (and other women) normally think of as friendly…but with sexier clothing and even more smiling.  Men, likely including Dan, interpret all of the following as showing sexual interest:

—Smile broadly at other men;

—Make and keep eye contact with other men;

—Talk to other men;

—Touch other men on the arm;

—Appear fascinated by what other men have to say;

—Ask other men lots of questions;

—Sweep your hand through your hair in a long, flowing gesture (unless your hair is very short, in which case, that would look odd). 

5. Name Drop. Drop other men’s names into conversation.  When you see Dan or one of his friends, for example, end the discussion by saying, “Oh, Todd’s gonna be here any sec to pick me up.  Nice seeing you, gotta run!”

6. Talk About Other Men.  Talk about other men you’ve dated, or name someone specific you are currently (maybe pretending to be) interested in.  “Oh, you know Trey?  Is he dating anyone now?  I always thought he was kinda cute.”

7.  Act Less Interested In Dan.  If you can possibly bring yourself to do it, show a little less interest in Dan than you want to.  Feigning a bit of disinterest and distance is a well-worn strategy—for good reason.  Don’t be bitchy—but don’t hang on his every word and glance, either. 

Cait, I leave you with this final strategy: Please don’t save a spot in your heart for Dan any more.  Although first love can indeed be true love, it’s been a few years now, and Dan hasn’t come after you yet even though he’s had opportunities.  And although jealousy is likely the surest route to renewing his interest, it won’t work if Dan has really moved on and has lost all romantic feelings for you.

So yes, Work It, but try to keep your heart open and date others whom you could have a real interest in, too.  If Dan really wants you, he’ll do whatever it takes to have you, and if he doesn’t, you should be moving towards happiness elsewhere.  Ultimately, it’s that Pursuit that drives us all.



Please click “Share Article” below to share this article with your favorite social media website.

Do you have a question for Duana?  Contact her at

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009

The author wishes to thank the following scientists for their outstanding research into the ways, whys and hows of women’s use of jealousy, and how men respond:

David M. Buss: recommended reading is his book The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and Sex

Bram Buunk

Jae Cho

Pieternel Dijkstra

Todd Shackelford

Virgil Sheets

William Tooke

Gregory White

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

« Q&A from “Winning Him Back—with Jealousy?” | Main | Q&A from “Hard-To-Get? Mating-Centrism and Other Pitfalls of Early Dating” »

Reader Comments (15)

I would also suggest that you let your pseudo-date in on the scheme. It would be cruel to use a man to get another man without letting him in on the plot. A good male friend of mine is still hurt from being used this way. Also, this would also set one man against the other and your pseudo-date may increase his interest in you as well, right? And even if you are not sincerely interested, the ego boosting factor can do wonders to make you attractive to your intended target!

November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandi

Amen, sistah! You're right -- it's not P.C., but nothing about the mating game is.

And I've seen a number of women come out on the other end of a scheme like this WAY more self-confident and interesting because of the practice they got by flirting without expecting an end-result from these "show males".

November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Hi, Candi. I agree; if someone is going to be your 'beard'/cover, they should be asked if that's okay with them. One of the things that fascinated me the most about this is that women who use jealousy are not being malicious about it (only 10% say they do it for revenge). They're doing it because they can't tell whether they're wasting their emotions on someone who doesn't care, or because the relationship has plateau'd and they want to find a way to take it to the next level up. Unfortunately, because heterosexual women are usually punished (by being seen as low-status) for being forthright about that, and because hey're often rewarded for the subterfuge of jealousy-- Jealousy is probably here to stay. No need to hurt innocent bystanders, though.

November 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Hi, Monica, thanks! I'm an idealist who wishes that total honesty was always the most fruitful policy, but the human mating ritual tends not to reward that too heavily at the beginning of the dance.

I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't mention this: It's vital to use jealousy in an emotionally intelligent way if one is going to use it at all. For instance:

1. Jealousy is only used half as often by males, and probably should not be used even that much. Males' signs of the desire and ability to commit are among the most powerful signals they can use to attract a woman, and that's true in every society that has been studied. When men "play hard to get" or try to create competition scenarios, very often a woman who is not already mated to that particular man will go elsewhere. H2G in a man is a turn-off precisely because it tells women they can't have the thing they most want: Commitment. (Women who are already in a relationship/in love with the man, on the other hand, commonly respond to the possibility of loss by trying to enhance their physical appeal.)

2. Jealousy is most effectively leveraged between people who are actually in a relationship with one another. Jealousy may be less likely to enhance desire and commitment if there isn't already some level of desire/commitment established. David Buss' studies of dating and married couples found that those who were most likely to respond to jealousy by increasing their show of love had been involved with one another longer, said they already felt emotionally close, and already felt they wanted a long-term commitment.
Which is why I advised Cait to use jealousy, but to be ready for the possibility that Dan won't respond. They do have a long history of involvement, but it was long ago; and they were first loves, which can be especially powerful, but he hasn't shown signs of wanting to resume the relationship since then.

3. Jealousy is not something to use on a whim; if there are other ways to find out how a prospective mate feels, it's typically better to use those. Perhaps this is why women who have used jealousy admit that they were either the lower-status partner, or thought the man perceived them that way, or knew they cared more about the relationship than the prospective mate did. Women who are already confident of a mate's affections don't need to leverage jealousy, and might be accurately be construed as cruel to use it.

4. Jealousy is the #1 factor in women's being physically abused and killed by their male partners. Therefore, it is to be used *not at all* if a man has shown *any* sign of aggression or violence towards anyone--animals, kids, other adults, oneself--in the past. If Cait had given even the slightest indication that Dan had been abusive, my advice would have been to Run Away Now--not to incite jealousy.

November 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

I absolutely agree about the emotionally-intelligent component. That's what makes it all work. And honestly, even though a woman who regards herself as lower-status may be able to effectively work that jealousy to her advantage, the relationship will inevitably implode because of their disproportionate rankings.

IMO, it has to be an excellent match where the guy is just "dinking around", and all you are doing is moving him to action. And, of course, there are those times when the end-result is not to the lady's liking, but then, as you say, that's some damn-good information.

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Scoring a good relationship seems to require a lot of information (thank you, Duana & Love Science!) and mega-tons of effort.

And once you're in the relationship, the maintenance work begins.


November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

Tools are useful, but I would caution about using a tool properly so noone gets hurt. Personally, I have a very high distaste for games and the jealousy game is high on my list. I should iterate that many years ago I had a girlfriend I was madly in love with. Unfortunately, she felt it was still necessary to play games, including the jealousy one. She played other games that combined caused me to end the relationship which broke my heart for a long time after.

The dangerous part for the jealousy gamer was not with the gal I just broke up with, but with all women I dated since. I never fell for the the jealous act again and walked away at the first sign of a game. Honesty has always been the correct key for entering my heart, so again I caution that this tool be played carefully. You never know what historic event in one's life may get triggered. Dan may walk regardless, but I wonder if Cait were to ask a good mutual friend to question Dan, even putting the idea in his head of possibly dating Cait again, if that would work better.

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVincent

Hi, Monica, Funny you should mention that--an upcoming Love Science is due to deal with the matching phenomenon, and whether and how well people need to be matched in order for It All To Work Out.

Gillian, thank you! One of the great ironies is that a woman's effort during courtship is often misdirected in the current societal mating scheme: Women do too much, and are greeted with confusion and a lack of enthusiasm by men as a consequence. Women could actually do a lot better if they would put more effort into maintaining high self-esteem and appropriate boundaries and making sure they adhere to their personal standards of Traits for a Mate (upcoming column)--and stopped working on the guys :).

You're so right that finding a partner is just the beginning--keeping them is what takes the real work! A lot of the challenges we face in long-term mateships arise because of the other people we bring to the union--especially in-laws and children. Have received some great letters from readers wanting to know more about these topics, and will cover these soon.

November 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Dear Vincent, I am in complete agreement that jealousy should be used with extreme care if at all (please see my first response to Monica, above), and never to torment someone as you were tormented. I take it you had told and shown your ex-girlfriend that you loved her--in which case, use of jealousy was entirely inappropriate. She paid a price for the inappropriateness of those actions when she lost you. Sadly, though, you paid a price, too--and so did some of your subsequent girlfriends, who had to wonder why you were so hurt.

As far as game-playing goes: About a third of women report intentionally using jealousy at some point--meaning two-thirds don't. And the jealousy-inducing Third did not do it to play a game as such. They had a need to know something, and they could not find another *safe* way to discern the truth about their beloved's level of commitment and love for them.

The problem, from a heterosexual woman's stance, is this: If she has already shown the greater amount of interest, as Cait had, she is already "one-down" in the status hierarchy. If she then finds a way to ask--even through the man's friends (who can be counted on to carry the tale right back to him), "How does Dan feel about me?", she's just marked herself as even less desirable because she seems desperate.

Ultimately, it hurts, but it may help to understand that the human mating behaviors that are universals are not games. They are mating rituals. Jealousy, including the intentional creation of jealousy, has been found in every culture in the world where it has been studied. When we find any other species that engages in a particular courtship behavior, we rightly understand that this is part of the ritual that these creatures need in order to form their bond (be it for a moment or a lifetime). Humans have their rituals as well. And sometimes, when there is no other way, one of those rituals involves jealousy.

November 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

there is an observable phenomenon I have seen both in myself and other men. I am not sure if its due to jealousy or competition. When you dont have a woman, its very difficult to get one. when you do get one then all sort of possibilities open to you even from girls who rejected you before. In fact many alpha males openly have several women, many of whom seem to think that she will be the one who could secure his sole attention. Can it be that its jealousy that triggers the desire or are they just competitive or is there a difference?

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhilton

Hi Doc,
I think that your advice is wonderful at the core, but can be counterproductive in some instances.
I think that creating an independent and attractive life may have greater value than the intention of creating jealousy which may backfire like someone said on the blog. She should not go with the stated intention of making him jealous, rather have the object of enjoying life with her friends (male or female). While she would do the same actions, her purpose is different and he will be able to see the difference. People can easily tell when you are trying to make them jealous or simply having a great time. The former may make them react negatively while the latter may cause them to admire you more.

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhilton

Duana - Ooooo what delicious upcoming topics!

High standards, appropriate boundaries, personal standards for Traits in a Mate, and how well people need to be matched for It To All Work Out. All of this resonates deeply with me - I am all ears! May your fingers fly quickly across the keyboard.

Two things come to mind: First, I appreciate your articles in a personal way because in the dating years I intend to provide my daughter with more and better information than was provided to me. Hopefully she will listen. If not, at least the info will be available to her, with gratitude to you. Many of us growing up received snippets of folk wisdom from our moms or grandmoms but it never gelled for me until later in life, reading your column: Where I succeeded in satisfying relationships, I was oftentimes unknowingly following the science-based advice to get me there.

Second: It is fashionable in some circles to bash religion, particularly the Catholic Church. However, some tools that the Church recommends do seem to work pretty darn well, namely the emphasis on pre-marital counseling, which is essentially designed to reveal the partners' compatibility --or lack thereof--before the marriage takes place. Had I pursued pre-marital counseling (through the Church or otherwise) before hitching my wagon to my first husband, I wouldn't have gotten hitched. That's my long way of saying I'm looking forward to your article about good matches :)

I think I already mentioned how much I enjoy your articles ....right?

For me, I like to see where, scientifically speaking, I was on and off course in the past --if I can understand it, then it's easier for me to forgive and heal it. For my daughter, I would like to keep her on course, as least as much as we mothers are able to do.

Thanks again for writing this all down for us, and best wishes for your continued and unlimited success!

November 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

Dear Gillian, Knowing you are cheering me on is a wonderful motivator. I admit that I had many experiences in my own life where this information would have been of immense help; like you, I have many moments in my past where forgiveness and healing have been necessary. Ironically, I was in graduate school before it occurred to me that science might have answered some of the questions that were baffling me...yet my academic experience alone never would have introduced me to these topics. All of which is to say that it is immensely gratifying to be able to present solid, fact-based information to you and your daughter now. Thank you for such an enthusiastic support of this endeavor.

Regarding the Church: Many religious traditions contain elements of effective mating psychology and strategy. Premarital counseling is an excellent example, empirically shown to reduce the divorce rate and promote marital harmony (and to break up engagements that ought not result in permanent unions).

The problem is that, as with world cultures in general, there are as many or more pieces of errant as helpful advice. And often, the advice is in conflict, so that we are confused at the time of our decision, and can only point to the correct aphorism after the outcome. Is it out of sight, out of mind, or absence makes the heart grow fonder? Are mama's boys the best husbands, or the worst? If you could have a man who was both supremely good-looking and supremely successful, would that be more of a blessing, or a curse? So science helps us all to discern which of the many wise answers is the most likely to work for us.

Thanks again for your kind words. Made my day, Gillian.

November 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Hi, Hilton, Welcome to Love Science, and thanks for writing your excellent queries. First things first: You are right that many women are more interested when a man is in a relationship than when he is not. Recent data show that men who are partnered are seen as more desirable, possibly because these men have proven their capacity for giving What Women Want Most: ability and willingness to provide and protect. Talk about universal turn-ons!

Of course, the irony, as you've noted, is that these men are not supposed to be available any more, and if one did defect from his committed relationship, the woman who won him would be savvy to wonder whether he might ever leave her, too. After all, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior in a similar situation. That said, mate-poaching (as David Buss named it) does happen, and sometimes it lasts; think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Another element of your first question has to do with the Alpha Male--the Rock Star, for instance, who has numerous women hanging off his every word and various other parts. Research shows that when women seek a short-term sexual liaison, it is often with men of this caliber. The women who do this short-term seeking are *not* usually after a long-term thing with such a man, though. They know he's out of her league and unattainable in the long term.

Rather, because men in general have a scientifically-validated tendency to lower their standards for a fling, this is the only relationship most women can have with the Alpha Male--and they take it. Reason? Evolutionary psychologists say it's so the woman can get the best genes for her future kids, although of course women would not necessarily be cognizant of that chromosomal wisdom.

Ironically, the permanent mates of such men usually recognize that part of the risk in marrying a Rock Star is the possibility of his cheating and perhaps his falling in love with one of his flings. This could be why some women in other recent studies have said they actively avoid a permanent mateship with a man In A League Of His Own.

November 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Hilton, now for Part 2 of our discourse. I agree with almost all of what you wrote, and much of my past advice in other Love Science columns has dealt with the need for women to create and maintain appropriate boundaries so that they are a prize rather than an ankle-weight. There's never been a perfume called Desperation, and I'll wager there won't be, lol.

That said, in this particular case, I stand by the advice to Cait to actively create conditions for jealousy, because it's my interpretation that she has done the other things one would and should do, without success. Her longer letter showed that she had actually done a good job of moving on with her life and being appropriate and independent in many regards. And it hadn't worked. First loves are often Irreplaceable in the affections of those who fit a particular profile (see earlier Love Science column), and I believe Cait may fit that profile. So, I'd hate to see her lose Dan if there is any way to help him connect with his dread of losing her.

And although it is popular to assume that men won't put up with this, science shows otherwise *if* the man is inclined to love that woman. Yes, it's better if the woman is just moving along with her life and the man clues in...but because the man in question may not actually *know* she's moved along, sometimes one must be a bit more strategic about it than that. Hopefully, of course, one is emotionally savvy enough to hide the intention of creating jealousy, and just appear to be moving on. But the science suggests jealousy, whether created intentionally or not, can be highly, highly effective.

To give some perspective, I'd like to share a story about a former client of mine, "Nancy". She had been dating a very rich and attractive man, "Mike", who had claimed to be madly in love with her...until she reciprocated and fell in love with him. Then, suddenly, he lost interest. He didn't break up, mind you; he just quit pursuing and let the relationship cruise along. She could tell no commitment was forthcoming.

Now, Nancy had great self-esteem. So she decided not to put up with spending years on someone she was wildly in love with, but who was half-assing it through the relationship (her words). She ended it and suffered a broken heart for about half a year--during which Mike did not pursue her at all. In fact, she kept running into him, and he usually had another date with him, and she felt horrid about it.

About three months into her break-up, Nancy became my client and started preparing for another relationship. Three months later, she was dating someone she felt a strong connection with. Suddenly, Mike called. He chatted on and on about the new woman he was dating. Nancy had intended to spare Mike any hurt feelings; she had intended to keep her new relationship to herself. But when Mike went into detail about his new girlfriend, Nancy thought: "Well, I guess it wouldn't be too rude to talk about my new interest."

What happened next was life-changing for her. Here's a rough dialog she passed on to me:
Mike: "So, that's my life. Anything new with you?"
Nancy: "Yes, actually. I just started dating someone, and even though it's pretty new, I think he could be The One."

Guess what Mike's next words were? "Marry me." Yes, folks, he proposed, and he meant it (she said no, and he continued proposing for days, and reiterated the proposal weeks later).

Now, the moral of the story: Jealousy Works when a man emotionally connects with the threat of losing a woman he really wants. The only thing extraordinary about Nancy's story is that Mike proposed so immediately. True, Nancy was not intending to create jealousy, and she had moved on from Mike (she actually did marry the man she had just begun seeing, and they wound up very happy together).

But note that Nancy's half-year of singlehood did NOTHING to inspire Mike's pursuit. It was only after she was at risk of being gone for good that Mike made a move. I suggest that Cait create that threat now. Like you, I hope she really moves towards someone else and does not just fake it. But if faking it is what she's up for, it's a lot better than what's been happening up until now.

November 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.